Gardens for Tiny Yards

Cleaning out the den the other day I found magazines that I hadn’t looked at in years. In the interest of clearing space for my drafting table, I quickly flipped through them all just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything I really HAD  to keep. And found a fun little article about gardening in a mini-micro front yard.

It came from an ancient edition of Gardening Life, a story of the transformation of a 25′ by 15′ front yard. (That’s barely bigger than my living room…)

And here’s the result (forgive the faded picture-of-a-picture):


There’s no limit to the creativity you can invest in the smallest spaces.

Grasses In The Garden

Grasses in My Garden–no, not MY garden, though after looking at these pictures, I’ll definitely be adding some of them to MY garden–and YOURS. Admittedly, you need to have a fair sized garden to really appreciate these, and as you’ll see, located in such a place where you’ll SEE the flowers and seed heads backlit by morning or evening sun. (I’ve written about this before.)

Miscanthus-sinensis Rotfeder_09sep07

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rotfeder’ 09sep07


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rotsilber’

Pennisetum_alopecuroides 23sep07

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Herbstzauber’ 23sep07

Pennisetum_'Herbstzauber' 25sep06

Pennisetum ‘Herbstzauber’ 25sep06


Stipa tenuissima 13sept05

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs. The only picture on this post that is my own.


All this courtesy of Sandfrauchen’s Garden. Please visit her blog for amazing garden pictures, including THIS picture diary of garden renovation.

Roses Roses Roses

Roses Roses Roses

Roses, Rhodos and Peonies were my first loves–at least my first plant loves. And they still rank really high on that scale. But whereas rhodos and peonies are pretty self-sufficient once you start them off right, roses will almost always need a little more management.

It’s still “winter”, even tho’ most of the country would challenge my use of the word, but it’s the perfect time to start planning if roses are to be part of your garden design. I’ll explain shortly.

I have a small yard, and quite a lot of roses.

Rosemary Harkness

Rosemary Harkness

The very first one I bought, (and managed to sustain for about 6-7 years), was the one that bit me with the rose-acquisition bug. It was “Blue Moon” (sorry, I never took a picture of it), a hybrid tea with the most enticing fragrance of almost any rose I’ve had since. (Maybe my imagination has exaggerated its fragrance. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and all that…)

That was in the days when all I had was a roof-top deck to grow things, so everything grew in containers. (FYI, if you only have containers to grow in, stick to roses that are suited to containers. More on that to come.) I tried David Austin roses, shrub roses, hybrid tea roses, floribunda roses, Old Garden roses. Guess what. None did very well, least of all Blue Moon. They were stunted, got fungal disease, produced few actual blooms, and in the end, only a very few survived to move house with me. Jude the Obscure was about to be turfed quite a few times, Rosemary Harkness (above) resists being “shovel pruned” (aka turned into compost–because she’s got such a long root I can’t dig her out!), and Princess Alexandra is still short-listed for disposal. I keep giving her “one more year”.

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure–a David Austin rose. Just gets better and better every year!

Princess Alexandra.

Princess Alexandra. She hasn’t looked this good since her first year “in the ground”.

Here in coastal BC we have a lot of rain. And a relatively short hot-ish summer. And cool nights even when the days are hot. And unfortunately, these are all conditions that encourage the growth and multiplication of fungal diseases.  And of all the things roses are, susceptible to fungal diseases is what they are the most! (Bad, BAD sentence!) Black spot, powdery mildew, and rust.

There are lots of home remedies for these diseases, none are very effective. Of course, you’ll read in the Garden and Rose forums that Baking Soda solution, or a dilute milk solution, or corn meal, or sulphur will work–everyone has their preferences, seldom are any of them in coastal BC. The key is consistency–ie, treating about weekly or so, and removing ALL infected leaves, as well as giving the plant all the cultural things it requires–full sun, mulch, not-too-much-and-slow-release organic fertilizer.

But I have a much better solution: only buy roses that are KNOWN to do well in OUR climate. I can give you a start right now: Jude the Obscure (above), Octavia Hill and Julia Child. At the Stanley Park Rose Garden they have a few Queen Elizabeths that looked REALLY good (in August) when many others were fading.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more "shell pink" as the summer wanes.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more “shell pink” as the summer wanes.


Julia Child

So here are a  few rules to follow if you want to have roses in your garden, AND you want to treat them like any other garden plant–sustainably. Which means no pesticides (including allegedly “organic” pesticides), no chemical feeding, no inordinate amounts of water, no “baby-ing”:

1. Check local forums and nurseries for their list of the most disease resistant roses for coastal BC. (Of course if you live in the Sierra mountains or Florida everglades, you might want to revise that rule.) I highly recommend Select Roses for their list of top performers. When I started buying roses online, I diligently bought only those that were classified  “highly disease resistant” . Unfortunately at the time I didn’t realize that the Ontario climate led to different performance than our climate. So go LOCAL.

2. Plant them in full sun, in UNamended soil (like all shrubs and trees).

3. Mulch them with organic mulch, following rules for mulching trees and shrubs–ie, not deeper than 2″, leaving at least 3-5″ of bare soil around the stem/trunk.

4. Feed discreetly with slow-release, preferably organic fertilizer, or just compost, which is a nice light balanced diet. I’ve many times heard it said that roses are “heavy feeders”; I’m of the opinion that more harm is done following that statement than otherwise. If other plants and shrubs are doing well, why not just treat your rose in the same way, and if it doesn’t bloom as well as it should, then consider adding a little Alfalfa meal.

5. Containers–a whole new ballgame! Several rose breeders have developed roses that are really suited to the more limited environment of the container, and I’d definitely recommend looking for some of them. Kordes Veranda and Balconia series roses or others that are called “Patio Roses” are compact and bred for small spaces. Follow standard container garden rules. 

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month–it’s usually some variant of magenta. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

Roses Roses Roses

Why did I say early February is the right time to start planning your rose garden? Because, since you’re not going to just go out and pick up a rose at Home Depot, you’re going to have to find out where your preferred rose variety is sold and then get it from them. Pickering or Palatine or even Select Roses will already be selling out of some of their favourites. So get onto it right away for your best success! Just be warned: the more success you have, the more you’re going to want to have “just one more rose”.

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When to Start Your Spring Clean-Up

When to Start Your Spring Clean-Up

Back in the Fall I wrote a post about NOT doing Fall clean-up. There are lots of reasons, not least is to leave some seed-heads for the birds. Well, it’s mid-February, and the birds have eaten all the available seeds, and now there’s a good reason to start your pre-Spring clean-up. On a nice dry day, preferably.

Pre-Spring clean-up isn’t about making the garden look tidy (at least not for me–I’ve never been interested in a”tidy” garden), it’s about finding what you forgot you had planted, or seeing the amazing late winter life “spring” into action.

Perfectly good looking Helleborus leaves, but...

Perfectly good looking Helleborus leaves, but…

Hiding flower buds.

Hiding flower buds, only visible if I cut away the old foliage.DSCN2482 2

Asters still looking somewhat architectural, but...

Asters still looking somewhat architectural, but…

...Hiding these tiny yellow crocuses.

…hiding these tiny yellow crocuses. So the asters come down, and benefit the compost heap.

Euphorbia looking the worse for wear after the freeze of early Feb…

Euphorbia looking the worse for wear after the freeze of early Feb…

And more crocuses visible after cutting down some of the Euphorbia. You

And more crocuses visible after cutting down some of the Euphorbia. (I’d rather see the new crocuses than the tatty euphorbia, which will grow back in the spring.) You can see the white “milky” sap of the euphorbia on all the cut stems. Your skin might be sensitive to this.

This is the detritus of summer alyssum, which I left not only for the birds, but also for the garden--I need alyssum to self seed to provide habitat for beneficial insects. But it's truly not beautiful.

This is the detritus of summer alyssum, which I left not only for the birds, but also for the garden–I need alyssum to self seed to provide habitat for beneficial insects. And because I adore the scent of alyssum–can never have too much of it. But this is truly not beautiful.

And who remembered--daffodils sprouting up!

And who remembered–daffodils sprouting up! I don’t get a lot of multiplication of my daffs, so I’m always surprised when I see them return–fewer and fewer each year.

So now really is the time to do some garden clean-up. What might YOU find…?

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