My Clematis: What I Call A Quality Problem

Let me start by saying that I am a very modest person. Ask anyone who knows me well. However, at the risk of appearing to be a braggart, I have to say this: my garden has an absolutely honking enormous Clematis jackmanii.

Clematis jackmanii last Sunday.

Clematis jackmanii last Sunday.

And it’s getting bigger. Above is our Clematis in a photo taken this past Sunday.

Same Clematis on July 8, 2014.

Same Clematis on July 8, 2014.

And this is the same Clematis from last year. It’s pretty clear, I think, that there has been significant expansion. (Though it’s a little tricky to see  because the two photos are taken from different angles.)

Actually, there are two Clematis jackmanii. The first and larger vine has spawned an offspring to its left, which is itself starting to become huge.

Back to the present day, summer of 2015.

Back to the present day, summer of 2015. You can see the Clematis is turning the corner and taking over the railing to the front door landing. Oh, and I just left that unpainted wooden trellis against the wall meaning to use it for something else. Next thing I know it has been commandeered by the Clematis King.

So now I have what could be called a quality problem: too much Clematis for the trellising available (not to mention the railing on the front door landing.

Clearly I need to attach more trellising to the west-facing brick wall of our house. But what is the best way to do that? I could trellis upward – maybe attach 10′ or 12′ vertical rebar to the wall with horizontal wires attached. Or tear out the wooden trellis and replace it with a much taller one.

Another possibility would be to trellis out rather than up. You can’t see it in these pictures, but there is more west-facing wall going to the left towards the attached garage.


Robin Goes a Huntin’

This is the time of year when you see juvenile American Robins about the garden. Juveniles have a spotted breast instead of a red breast. They are cute and fun to watch, especially when they are on the hunt.

Robins like to hunt in leaf litter and lawns, which is another good reason to keep the insecticides and pesticides off your grass.


“I’m hungry.”


“How come there’s never anything to eat around here?”


“Now, that looks like it could be something to eat.”


“It IS something to eat!”


“I’m going to sneak up on it very quietly.”




“I’m still hungry.”

Hoping all of you had a fine holiday weekend. See you soon.

Algonquin Island Gardens, Part I

Algonquin Island is part of the Toronto Islands, which I wrote about in this post a few days ago. The Toronto Islands are a unique space, the largest urban area in North America without motor vehicles. In that last post we wandered around Ward Island, which has the flavor of a North Woods artist colony.

The bridge to Algonquin Island

The bridge to Algonquin Island

Now let’s pick up where we left off, crossing the foot bridge between Ward and Algonquin Island.

2015-06-05 14.13.08

We walked under a canopy formed by tall conifers on either side of a narrow lane.

2015-06-05 14.16.15

The first garden we came to was built around a small pond with paths made of wooden planks. I loved the combination of water with wood, stone, and tall grassy plants.

2015-06-05 14.18.12

The yellow iris were just beginning to bloom.

2015-06-05 14.21.54

Water flowed into the pond from a hollow bamboo pole, one of several elements suggestive of a Japanese garden.

2015-06-05 14.19.05

I like that table made from the cross section of a tree, but those stumps look more decorative than comfortable.

2015-06-05 14.20.24

You can never have too  many flower pots. The repetition of the containers on the shelf is very appealing, and somehow they look right with the flowers blooming in the raised bed below.

2015-06-05 14.26.55

We strolled onward to another garden. Algonquin Island is a very green place.

2015-06-05 14.26.12

My parents had some big Rhododendrons in their New York garden and I think of it as an eastern shrub. These are beautiful, and I love the contrast with the Japanese Maple.

2015-06-05 14.29.04

Not really sure, but I think this was not one of the open gardens and Judy took this picture from the lane. The house and its surroundings have a real “cottage in the woods” feel.

2015-06-05 14.29.17

A rusty metal ladder, a birdhouse, and an old pot full of flowers provide company for a venerable tree.

2015-06-05 14.34.44

Some of the gardens on Algonquin Island had more of a suburban feel, or suggested the garden of a gracious summer cottage, as opposed to the more bohemian vibe on Ward Island.

2015-06-05 14.38.47


I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many happy ferns and hostas.

2015-06-05 14.44.40

OK, that’s it for now. Let’s close with a picture of the photographer against the Toronto skyline seen from Algonquin Island.

In another post (coming in the near future), we’ll finish up at Algonquin Island. There’s one more garden in particular that is really worth seeing.

Smooth Hydrangea: It Grows On You

My relationship with Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) can be likened to an arranged marriage. I didn’t choose this plant, it was there when we moved into our house 13 years ago. At first I found it mildly disappointing. But as we shared good times and bad, my attitude moved to one of quiet affection.

Smooth Hydrangea, underplanted with Bishop's Weed

Smooth Hydrangea, underplanted with Bishop’s Weed

I can’t speak to the Hydrangea’s attitude, we don’t discuss our feelings much.

I have an instinctively standoffish attitude towards Hydrangeas generally, for reasons I can’t really articulate. It may stem simply from the name “Hydrangea” itself, which sounds somehow fussy and Victorian.

However, I have come to appreciate the big, white (never pink or blue) flower clusters, covered with bees in early summer. The rounded, dark green leaves are also nice. These shrubs look good in the back garden underplanted with variegated Bishops Weed (Aegopodium podagraria).

Smooth Hydrangea is happy in light or part shade. Also, turns out it is a pretty tough plant. During the drought of 2005, there were a couple of Hydrangeas I didn’t water at all. They withered away over the summer. I thought they were goners, but they bounced back the following spring.

They will also bounce back from aggressive pruning, though you may lose a year’s flowers.

Similarly, the Smooth Hydrangeas on the west side of the house don’t seem to mind growing in soil that tends to be fairly dry, due to a rain shadow cast by the eaves.

And I should add that Smooth Hydrangea is native to Eastern North America, including southern Illinois.

I used to think that my Smooth Hydrangeas were of the cultivar ‘Annabelle’. However, I now realize they must be some other variety, possibly ‘Grandiflora’. ‘Annabelle’ has huge flower heads, so big that they often flop over in the rain. The flowers on my Smooth Hydrangea are definitely smaller.

I am linking this post to the Wednesday Vignette meme hosted by annamadeit at Flutter and Hum.

Do you have Hydrangeas in your garden? Do you find that you and your Hydrangeas are growing closer together or further apart?

Just Offshore from Downtown Toronto, Verdant Islands with Personality to Spare

Ward Island is part of the Toronto Islands, just a few minutes ferry ride from downtown Toronto, Canada. That short ferry ride transports you between what feels like one world and another.

The ferry to Ward Island in downtown Toronto.

The ferry to Ward Island in downtown Toronto.

You leave the bustling hub of a city of 2.6 million people. You arrive in a place of small cottages and modest houses, no motor vehicles (the Toronto Islands are the largest urban area in North America without cars), and gardens lovingly tended and often creatively inspired.

View of downtown Toronto from the Ward Island dock.

View of downtown Toronto from the Ward Island dock. It was a hazy, cloudy day.

Actually, Ward Island is not an island. Rather it is the eastern-most chunk of Centre Island, the largest part of this tiny archipelago.

Judy and I got to see the Toronto Islands as part of the brilliantly organized 2015 Garden Bloggers Fling. Once the Flingers got off the ferry and had a group picture taken, we were given maps and a list of the gardens that were open to visitors.

The "streets" of Ward Island were tiny, maybe wide enough for four people to walk abreast.

The “streets” of Ward Island were tiny, maybe wide enough for four people to walk abreast.

After that, we were free to spend the afternoon wandering at will. This post will focus on Ward Island, and in the near future I’ll write something about Algonquin Island, which had a slightly different feel.

To be honest, I can’t remember enough to write about the individual gardens we saw on Ward Island, but I can write about the general impression they made on me.

2015-06-05 13.06.19

The overall feel was certainly informal, often with a Bohemian vibe. These Bridalwreath-type Spirea were popular, and obligingly at peak bloom at the time of our visit.

2015-06-05 13.50.38

Lots of originality could be found in materials and objects used for hardscape, containers, and garden art.

2015-06-05 13.10.23

Why shouldn’t a toilet be repurposed as a planter?

2015-06-05 13.28.59

I liked this cow-themed mailbox.

2015-06-05 13.31.58

We also saw some wonderful water features. I like this rough-cut stone.
2015-06-05 13.30.44

Watch out for the spider!

Alliums were abundant in the gardens we saw.

Alliums were abundant in many of the gardens we saw.

As for color, it seemed as if all the flowers of spring were blooming simultaneously in June rather than sequentially throughout the season.

Hellebores in June.

Hellebores in June.

Tulips, Alliums, and Irises, Lilacs and Hellebores – all could be seen blooming at once.

Another view of downtown Toronto, this one from an island garden. Note the tulips, al;ks blooming in June.

Another view of downtown Toronto, this one from an island garden. Note the tulips blooming with Iris and Cammasia in June.

Perhaps there were all rushing to catch up from the long winter, knowing there was no time to waste.

2015-06-05 13.55.47

After seeing a number of gardens, Judy and I walked to the bridge leading to nearby Algonquin Island. Our route was a boardwalk along the south side of the island, facing Lake Ontario.

2015-06-05 13.53.29

We passed empty beaches.

2015-06-05 13.53.39

We saw quite of a few of these signs during our ramblings. On the opposite end of Center Island there is a small airport servicing propeller planes. There is a push to extend the runways so that jets can also land, but it is running into determined opposition.

Today’s Toronto Islands community actually owes its existence to such civic protest. In the 1950s a plan was devised to empty the islands of people and turn it into a park. A few hundred residents resisted, and a lengthy struggle ensued that did not end until about ten years ago.

We made use of this bench to contemplate the big lake.

We made use of this bench to contemplate the big lake.

The final resolution is that while the land is publicly owned, the residents own their houses and hold a 99 year lease on the land they live on. Development is severely restricted: there is a school, a senior center, three cafes, and a children’s amusement park – but no stores. Supplies must be brought from the mainland. People visit from the mainland to enjoy the Islands, but only on foot.

2015-06-05 14.10.24

Eventually Judy and I came to the Algonquin Island bridge. The narrow channel between the islands was full of boats.

2015-06-05 14.09.47

And the bridge took only a minute or two to cross.

Next: Algonquin Island.

Pondside Gardens of Eden in Toronto

Three private homes in the Swansea neighborhood were the first gardens we saw in Toronto during the Garden Bloggers Fling. Swansea borders on the Humber River, Lake Superior (Correction: Lake Ontario – sheesh, for dumb), and High Park, one of Toronto’s largest and most popular parks.

2015-06-05 09.36.17

The first garden we saw made the biggest impression on me. Once I came round the back of the house, my eyes were drawn through the relatively narrow yard to a path entrance.

The water, the big old trees (some covered with ivy), the weeping willow, and the lush greenery made me think of a north woods Eden, a tranquil forest primeval.

2015-06-05 09.36.46

Where exactly the path leads cannot be seen, but the waters of Grenadier Pond lie in the middle distance (I thought it way too big to be a pond, but that’s a minor point).

2015-06-05 09.29.20

The path descends a steep slope towards the pond. The rough stonework provides a stimulating contrast to the abundant foliage.

2015-06-05 09.29.10

I admired how the steep and rocky slope was beautifully and cunningly planted, in patches and in little gems here and there. Love these Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum pedatum).

2015-06-05 09.31.13

More ferns.

2015-06-05 09.33.33

These look like some kind of Hardy Geranium, but I’m not sure.

2015-06-05 09.33.58

Double Columbine growing with Irises, sadly not in bloom.

2015-06-05 09.34.31

I don’t usually like double Columbine (or double flowers generally), but in this case I could make an exception.

2015-06-05 09.34.52

As you descend, a Gazebo comes into view. Talk about an ideal place for your morning coffee. The only drawback being the steep slope, which some of us may not be alert enough to navigate early in the morning, especially when carrying a cup of hot liquid. An underground two-way escalator seems like the obvious solution.

2015-06-05 09.51.17

There was also a second garden incorporating the shore of Grenadier Pond. A patio provided a view of the water, another good location for morning coffee or other refreshments. Those are custom-made iron railings.

2015-06-05 09.54.29

Here too you can descend on a stone path to get closer to the water.

2015-06-05 09.54.56

There is an impressively large dry stone retaining wall.

2015-06-05 09.56.50

This garden also featured some interesting metal sculpture. I like how these accompany the Foxgloves growing in the wooden container.

2015-06-05 09.40.44

There was a third garden, this one not on the pond. Its main feature was a more formal boxwood garden. It was very nice, but I just don’t get excited about boxwood. Just a question of personal taste.

2015-06-05 09.47.24

There was, however, a very impressive hedge of white Rugosa roses along the street.

2015-06-05 09.48.06 double file viburnum

And a huge Double-File Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum) in full flower.

I generally like to wait until the gardening season is over before I write posts about the Fling. However, there’s too much good stuff to hold back everything until then. Much more to come.

Naming My New Border … We Have A Winner!

Back in early May I launched a contest to name the new border I have planted in the parkway where a maple recently died, creating a new sunny spot. Well, I am pleased to announce that we have a winner … the Lamppost Border, submitted by Sunil of Sunil’s Garden.

The newly planted Lamppost Border, back on May 2.

The newly planted Lamppost Border, back on May 2.

Congratulations, Sunil! As promised, you will receive the thanks of a grateful nation. Details are still being worked out as to which nation exactly it will be, but early indications point to either Lichtenstein or Krgyzstan.

Honorable mention goes to Prairie Parkway, submitted by Jackie Totsch, and Stumpy (because there’s a stump), submitted by Jeff Park Mom. They will receive the thanks of a grateful township or municipality, to be selected in a reasonably timely manner. I should also mention that Karen Boutall got very close with Lamppost Garden.

So, why the Lamppost Border? Well, I like names that are distinct and easy to remember, and this is the only border planted around a lamppost.

The Parkway Border on June 20th.

The Parkway Border on June 20th.

As to the border itself, here’s how it was looking in mid-June. Almost all the plants  are settling in nicely. Though all the perennials were planted this spring, I have hopes that many will bloom their first year. In fact, the Blanket Flower ‘Arizona Sun’ (Gaillardia aristata) is already blooming.

Blanket Flower

Blanket Flower ‘Arizona Sun’

What, you say? Blanket Flower wasn’t on my original plant list? Well, they were left on my doorstep wrapped in a blanket (get it?) and what was I to do? I had to give them a home.

The one disappointment has been the Prairie Baby’s Breath (Euphorbia corollata). I waited a long time for it to emerge, and then suddenly – it was gone. The Demon Bunnies of Mordor are suspected.

‘Disco Red’ Marigolds (Tagetes patula) and ‘Profusion Fire’ Zinnias are filling in the space between the new perennials.

The stump makes a nice pedestal for a flowering container.

The stump makes a nice pedestal for a flowering container.

A flowering container deals with the stump issue, I feel, satisfactorily.

I have started to remove the strip of grass that ran down the middle of the border, following advice from Donna of Garden Walk, Garden Talk and Christina of My Hesperides Garden. I am, however, leaving a square of grass around the gas main cover and the strip along the street.

Another view

Another view

Now it so happens that I have come into possession of a couple of Little Bluestem ‘Carousel’ and ‘Jazz’ (Schizachyrium scoparium). (I really have to stop these strangers from leaving plants on my doorstep.) These I intend to plant in a little drift in the newly opened up space, because I really have no other place to put them. Will that look weird? I hope not.

Because this is a vignette of sorts, I am linking to the Wednesday Vignette meme at Flutter and Hum. Take a look, as this is a blog that always has something interesting to say.