How to Capture Morning and Evening Light

How to use morning and evening light to your best advantage

It’s late October, but still a great time to be planting here in coastal BC. And one of the things I’ve loved about my own garden is how I serendipitously planted some shrubs and perennials where they’ll GLOW in morning or evening light. And of course, since it was serendipity–read “total accident”–I missed the opportunity to do the same with others. No problem, my “research” garden is always in the process of change-I love to dig things up and move them around. They seldom mind.

Here’s some examples:

Imperata cylindrica, Japanese Blood Grass:

This is what it should look like in your garden

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You can see that the light is shining through from the back right (shadow front left).

My JBG on the other hand looks like this:

Not taking advantage of this glorious sunny day, just kind of ...dull

Not taking advantage of this glorious sunny day, just kind of …dull

So it’s going to be dug up, divided, and moved to here:

DSCN1052In among all this lily-of-the-valley, I’ll put clumps of JBG. What a fabulous combination when morning sun shines through.

Japanese Maple:

Morning sun front-lighting this Japanese Maple

Morning sun front-lighting this Japanese Maple

This Japanese Maple–almost overpowered by the Pieris japonica–is beautiful from the street side. But from the house side (not my house)…

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I know you’re confused–“Where’s the Pieris?” This is actually a different tree, same property.

…it’s practically on fire! And because it’s out toward the street giving enough open space on all sides, the evening lighting will be even better.

Euphorbia characias is an amazing structural plant:

Thanks to HortusUrbanus for her Seattle picture

Thanks to HortusUrbanus for her Seattle picture.

But if you situate it where there is open space between the viewer and the morning or evening sun, you get this:

DSCN1007How about this Fritillaria meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris

DSCN1006Or even

Even your teeny tiny botanical tulips.

Even your teeny tiny botanical tulips.

Then there are things you can’t control

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…but keep your eyes open, and appreciate them when they appear.

How to

The key is just identifying plants that will show extra-special when backlit–either flowers or foliage, like the lily-of-the-valley above–and then plant them so they are positioned between you and the early morning or late afternoon sun. (These are mostly early morning pictures, but late afternoon sun gives even more fiery effect since the angle of the sun produces that golden glow.) Make sure they’re planted with open space, or lower growing plants, on the “sun-side”, so your targets plants are not in the shadow of the others.

Then go out and enjoy the view. Take pictures. Send them here. I’d love to see what others have done to Capture the Light.

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How to Maintain your Paver Paths and Patios

I’ve seen a lot of brick paver hardscaping that is full of weeds, or sunken in patches, or worn and stained. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way of managing your brick pavers?

The wrong way is just not doing anything. We live in a fallen world, friends, and NOTHING is maintenance-free. Your bathroom needs cleaning, your grass needs cutting, your kids need discipline, and your pavers need maintaining.

How to Maintain your Paver Paths and Patios

Here’s a great youtube video on maintaining your pavers, thanks to the Brick Paver Doctor. Here’s another, courtesy of the manufacturer, Sakrete.

So– how to:

1. Power wash the path/patio. Get rid of dirt, moss/mildew, and weeds.

2. Sweep up the debris–the power washing makes quite a mess!

3. Fill the joints with polymeric sand. Polymeric sand creates a firm but flexible bond between the pavers, and deters weeds.

4. Repeat every two or three years.

Now that I’ve seen a solution to the inevitable weeds in the paver joints problem, I feel a lot better about designing with bricks and smaller pavers.

Sheet Mulching, or not, or how to save yourself a lot of work

Autumn is a great time to plan and begin to develop new garden beds for next year– as though you didn’t have enough to do.

Sheet Mulching, or not, or how to save yourself a lot of work

Sheet mulching is the process of layering lots of different compostable materials OVER your grass in order to create a new planting bed without digging up and discarding the turf. And it starts with a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard (or compost then cardboard, depending on your information source). Then there’s a few inches (more) of home-made or bagged compost or composted manure, then a lot of layers of straw (NOT HAY), leaves (preferably chopped/mowed), yard debris (not with weeds or any leaf diseases like black spot), manure (if you have it and if you can stand it), grass clippings (presuming you don’t already have a mulching mower). To a total of around 18-20″ above the original ground level.

Linda Chalker Scott is of the opinion that the layer of paper-product is counter-productive because it prevents/hinders air getting down into the area that you want to compost–the grass turf. She recommends just covering the area to be transformed with 12″ of woodchip mulch.

I’ve tried the sheet mulching thing many times with varying success rates–not least because I don’t have easy access to leaves (almost exclusively conifer neighbourhood), straw, manure, or grass clippings (mine stay on the lawn where they belong). And the racoons love to dig around it,DSCN1426 exposing the cardboard to air, and allowing it to dry out. So in general it’s taken two years to turn a grassy area into a planting bed for flowers or vegetables. Not very efficient, but at least I didn’t have to figure out how to dispose of sod (that can’t go into the yard-waste recycling bin).

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This bed (the area that looks darker and right down to the bottom of the picture) was sheet mulched last fall (2012) with cardboard and 3-4″ of city compost. You can see it was variably effective, with lots of grass and weeds growing through, and not enough composting-in-place of the existing turf.

This year I decided to try the wood chip mulch thing–not primarily to turn turf to planting beds, but because I wanted to add paths into the garden. You may remember seeing these pictures before…

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

I started in May by digging out the turf in the areas that were to be paths and spreading several inches of mulch. The clumps of turf were placed upside down in other turf areas that were to become planting beds of some kind. So in the picture above, to the left of the brick edging is the path, to the right of the brick edging is a layer of upside-down turf  topped with 6″ wood chip mulch.

...finally meeting up with the "translocated mountain of mulch"!

This mountain of wood chips was mostly grass and weeds up until end May 2013. I needed to put the wood chips somewhere, so decided this would be the storage area until used up, and then I’d see how well the underlying plant material had composted.

Above you see the storage area of mulch, under which is two layers of up-turned turf bricks (probably about 6-8″ deep) from dug-up pathways, sitting on top of a grassy/weedy area.

Through the rest of the spring I continued to use up the mulch on paths through the back and the front, as well as mulching the perennial and mixed  beds and borders.  The neighbours and their friends did  likewise–it was a lot of wood chips!

Now here it is Autumn, and this is what has happened to all that turf:

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A few dead roots is all the evidence left of layers and layers of turf.

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Lovely dark soil, lots of worms.

So I’m convinced: Skip the cardboard, skip the manure, skip the grass-clippings–leave them on the grass! Call up your nearest arborist and get them to drop off a truck-load of wood chips. If you can’t use that much, invite your neighbours to read this blog post and then you can all share the bounty!

Most importantly, though, the first line in this post: “Autumn is a great time to PLAN…”. don’t leave the garden bed development to chance, or what is most convenient. If you can’t quite figure out where  you want to develop new planting beds, ask a neighbour or friend whose garden you admire. They’ll be sure to want to help you! Gardeners love to share their hard-won wisdom!

Comments? Questions? Love to hear it all. Don’t forget to click the “follow” link and the “like” button.

Five Great Containers: Part Last!

So I’ll recap the story.

Ben’s wife and little son have been gone all summer and are coming back in two weeks. He wants to do something nice for them and asks for a balcony design. This is one of my favourite balcony pictures:

And because of its simplicity, that is the idea I gave him. Only MUCH smaller.

Containers 1, 2 and 3 all had small trees, a smaller evergreen shrub, a fluffy perennial, a taller perennial, and a grass. (Or a close approximation of those elements.)

Container 4 is very different.

Container #4

Container #4

This is a 16″ container, compared with the other 22″ containers. So obviously it doesn’t hold as much. Intentionally. I wanted some contrast with the sizes, and would have preferred no contrast with the colours, but we took what we could find. The glazing style of all 5 containers is the same, the colouring is different.

This container planting isn’t nearly as interesting as the others because everything is still immature. Next year it will look a lot different as everything gets closer to mature size.

It starts with a lavender.

My favourite, Lavendula angustifulia ‘Hidcote Blue’. This is one of the smallest of the English lavenders, sweet-smelling (never mind that I seem to be the only person in existence who doesn’t  like the fragrance of lavender), and rich purple-blue coloured flowers. Here is an excellent video on pruning lavender. Unless you actively keep your lavender in check, it will get woody and overgrown and UGLY. You don’t want this, I’m sure.

lavender1

Thanks to beingfiftysomething for her picture of her front  lavender “hedge”. Which she has since completely changed!

Next, and almost invisible because it’s so young, is Verbascum ‘Blue Pixie’. This will give a nice spray of height above the lavender, coordinating nicely with the colour. But as the name implies, not grow as high as most Verbascum.

ver_pixie_blue

Thanks to Future Plants for the picture of Verbascum ‘pixie Blue’

Finally this  garden is rounded off with the some of the same plants as other containers: the grass–Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘LIttle Bunny’, the spurge–Euphorbia ‘Tiny Tim, and a few strands of the sedum–Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’. Repeating some plants in your collection of containers gives a sense of unity, and is a principle you can apply to your in-ground gardens as well.

Container 5–the Succulent ContainerDSCN2024

One important thing to remember about succulent containers: they need to be treated a little different than other perennial containers. Most succulents grow in closer-to-desert conditions, hence the “succulent” leaves which store water. They don’t want a lot of watering, they don’t want their roots to stay too wet, and they don’t want a  lot of wet soil underneath their roots or under their leaves. A shallow container is commonly used, but again, we went with what we could find, so choose the smaller of the coordinating pots. A layer of pebbles would be a good thing to use to mulch the soil and keep the plant leaves from sitting directly on the wet soil.

My favourite plant here is the ruffled edge Lewisia cotyledon in front. This puts on the sweetest show in late spring, with flowers that range from light orange through various pink shades to almost purple or red.

Thanks to Wild Ginger Farms for the picture of Lewisia cotyledon 'Sunset strains'

Thanks to Wild Ginger Farms for the picture of Lewisia cotyledon ‘Sunset strains’.

Going around clockwise, next is Sempervivum tectorum ‘Royal Ruby’. I stole a few from the plant to add into other containers, as well as planting a few in smaller pots for a houseplant. Then another no-name Sempervivum hybrid, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’, and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina, and last-but-not-least, Euphorbia myrsinites trailing over the edge.

So that’s the end of my series on “Five Great Containers”. Hope you liked it–if so, let me know and maybe I could do another series on some other topic of your choice.

As always, leave a comment, ask a question, incite a discussion. Nicely.